The Book World
The latest work from the pen of Mr. Charles W. Chesnutt, "The Marrow of Tradition," is a notable production. Indeed, it is the strongest and most absorbing story of Southern life which has yer come from that sectional phase of American life. Cable, Page, Tourgee and Joel Chandler Harris have penned with cunning fidelity stories of "Dixie land," and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s great story was great because of the moral influence it exerted, rather than its artistic finish. In the "Marrow of Tradition" we find every phase of Southern life painted with such rare fidelity that at last appears the cultured and industrious phase of Afro-American life, not over done, but just as we know it to be. At last the Southern white aristocrat, "poor white," ante-bellum Negro and cultured Afro-American are placed in juxtaposition in a chef d’oeuvre of Charles W. Chestnutt, which easily puts him in the front rank of American novelists.
The plot hinges upon the Wilmington riot of ’98, and one who picks up this book to read will lay it down with reluctance when the last chapter tells its climax with a dramatic intensity that has rarely been equaled. The hollow pretensions and hypocritical fraud ever manifest by the South in its treatment of the "race problem," Mr. Chestnutt unmasks. He punctures not only the white demagogue, but white respectability which endures and tolerates with such charming composure the Southern mob and its bloody work, while the political revolutionists does not escape perforation by this master hand. Jerry, the Negro porter, who would be turned "several shades lighter" by the application of the patent nostrums advertised so extensively in Afro-American weeklies, serves to exhibit the pathetic and lamentable characteristic in that class of Afro-Americans who with feverish anxiety are spending large sums of money to eliminate their physical characteristics. Of this man he says: "If he could by some strange alchemy, bleach his skin and straighten his hair, there would still remain underneath it all only the unbleached darky,--the ass in the lion’s skin."
Dr. Miller, the eminent Afro-American physician, is a character so real in the midst of his surroundings, socially ostracized by the whites, superior in attainments, wealth and ambition to his own race, he turns philanthropist and erects a hospital for his people, which is burned to ashes during the riot, now a matter of history, his own child shot to death in its mother’s arm by the rioters by accident, while he is called upon to save the life of a white child whose father had been the principle agent in fomenting the revolution, and who had once before refused him access to his home.
Cause and effect--the interdependence of the two races, and artistic glimpses of Southern life are reproduced by Mr. Chestnutt as no other writer in this particular field of romantic literature has yet done, and the reason of it is because Mr. Chestnutt thoroughly knows the Afro-American of education and refinement. The Marrow of Tradition. By Charles W. Chestnutt. Crown 8vo. $1.50. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, Mass.
Rev. of The Marrow of Tradition in "The Book World," The Appeal [St. Paul, MN] 7 Dec. 1901: 2.